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You Noble Spectators / Ye Noble Spectators

[ Roud 610 ; Master title: You Noble Spectator ; TYG 83 ; Ballad Index StoR154 ; trad.]

The Watersons sang Ye Noble Spectators in 1966 on their album A Yorkshire Garland. Like most of the tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. Another recording by John Kirkpatrick et al. called Sword Dance Song & Tune can be found on the CD Wassail! A Traditional Celebration of an English Midwinter. Compare to this the Watersons’ Earsdon Sword Dance Song on their album Frost and Fire.

A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

For some reason (some say, on account of the Danish settlements, others say it’s to do with the calling of iron and coal miners) parts of the Northeast, particularly North Yorkshire and Durham have preserved well the old midwinter ceremonial dances once attached to a primitive folk play designed to revive the life-giving sun just when it seemed to be on the verge of dying. They’re called sword dances but in fact it’s probable that the strips of wood or metal the dancers carry represent rather working tools than weapons of destruction. Traditionally the dancers wore disguise, represented folk heroes, and an essential part of the dance drama was the mimed killing and resurrection of a champion. The “captain” of the team had the responsibility of introducing the heroes with a “calling-on” song. Ye Noble Spectators was the calling-on song for the dancers of Kirby Malzeard, near Ripon. where Cecil Sharp stumbled on the “sword dance” in 1906. The champion who was “put to death” and raised again in Kirby took on the name and attributes of the Biblical Samson. The song was taken down nearly eighty years ago from an old labourer, Thomas Wood, by John Fawcett, a farm foreman of Breconboro near Thirsk, and printed by Lucy Broadwood in her English County Songs.

Compare to this the Earsdon Sword Dance and Song on the Watersons’ album Frost and Fire,
Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne’s Ripon Sword Dance and Song on his album Outway Songster,
John Kirkpatrick’s Sword Dance Song & Tune on the CD Wassail! A Traditional Celebration of an English Midwinter,
and Steeleye Span’s A Calling-On Song on their first album, Hark! The Village Wait.


The Watersons sing Ye Noble Spectators

Ye noble spectators wherever you be,
Your attention I beg and I pray,
For all I desire is to make us lads room
And it’s plenty of pleasures we’ll have.

The first he comes on like a ranting young lad
And he conquers wherever he goes;
He’s scorned by his enemies to be controlled
And his name it is William the Raw.

Chorus (after each verse):
We are six actors bold
Never came on stage before
And we will do our best
And the best can do no more

The next is his brother you might think them twins,
They have thought for the world they would fight.
And when these two philistines seized upon me
You’d have thought they’d have ruined me quite.

The third is a man and of some milder blood,
Some pity there’s lodged in his breast;
He often has threatened to do me some good
But he durstn’t for fear of the rest.

The fourth he comes on like a ranting young lad;
He’s like some great jestical stand.
It was he that gave orders that I should be polled
So they fettered my feet and my hands.

The fifth is as cruel as cruel can be;
The others and him did advise.
It was him that gave orders that I shouldn’t see
So they instantly bored out my eyes.

The sixth is no better than all of the rest,
He was the first breeder of strife.
If any of you had been there in my place
You’d be glad to come off with your life.

When they were all merry carousing with wine,
The first for young Samson did call.
He’s pulled down the house and slew all in one blow
And that was an end to them all.


Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Wolfgang Hell.